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U.S. cities, states, and businesses can nearly hit the Paris Climate goals–without Trump

America’s Pledge calculates that, even without the federal government, pledges from others will reduce a big chunk of carbon emissions. But there’s still a lot of work to do.

U.S. cities, states, and businesses can nearly hit the Paris Climate goals–without Trump
[Photo: Neonbrand/Unsplash]

When Trump announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement in 2017, hundreds of businesses immediately responded that it was a mistake–and that they would redouble their own efforts to cut emissions. The newly formed We Are Still In coalition of businesses, cities, and states said that it would act “in the absence of leadership by Washington.”

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It raised a question, especially for the rest of the world that stayed in the agreement: Can the U.S. meet its Paris goal despite the current administration? A detailed new analysis from America’s Pledge, an initiative led by Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown, finds that current commitments from “real economy actors” (the report’s name for everyone but the federal government) can drive emissions down roughly two-thirds of the way to the original goal. But a stronger focus on 10 key solutions, and deeper engagement, would make it possible to nearly hit the goal.

“Certainly one thing would you not want people to take away from this report is that it’s all going to be okay without federal action, because it’s not,” says Paul Bodnar, a managing director at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, which co-led the analysis with the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland. “But to a very surprising degree, progress is being made and can be made without the federal government.”

[Photo: Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash]

In 2015, when the world agreed on the Paris climate deal to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, the U.S. pledged that it would cut its emissions between 26% and 28% by 2025, compared to emissions in 2005. Businesses, states, and cities are already moving in that direction. Companies like Google and Apple have shifted to 100% renewable energy. Dozens of corporations, from PepsiCo to Levis and Mastercard, have set targets to reduce emissions in line with the Paris agreement. Dozens of cities have goals to reach 100% clean energy. By the end of the year, states that represent more than a third of the U.S. economy are expected to have a price on carbon–a system that makes polluters pay for their pollution, encouraging them to cut emissions.

When the new analysis painstakingly calculated the impact of commitments that have already been made, it added up to a total emissions reduction of 17% by 2025. “That’s really good, but it’s not good enough,” says Bodnar. If businesses, cities, and states dig into 10 high-impact, readily implementable solutions, the report says, from doubling down on renewable energy to getting more electric cars and trucks on the road, emissions could drop 21%. If they go farther, 24% is achievable–a reduction of emissions that is greater than the total emissions in 100 other countries.

The list of key solutions also includes encouraging retrofits to make buildings more efficient, electrifying building energy use so buildings don’t have to run on fossil fuels for heat, and reducing methane leaks (the Trump administration, notably, now wants to make it easier for energy companies to ignore methane leaks). The list also recommends speeding up the retirement of coal plants, phasing out super-polluting HFCs (used in refrigeration and air conditioning), developing strategies to sequester carbon on land, and forming state coalitions to set a price on carbon.

It’s possible for non-federal action, alone, to nearly meet longer-term targets. “Even in the absence of federal leadership, these real economy actors have the ability to drive the accelerated pace of decarbonization after 2025, almost to the rate that’s needed to get to the really long-term targets that science says are necessary,” says Bodnar.

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Because sustainable options already make economic sense–in many cases renewable energy is often the cheapest option, and there were around twice as many solar jobs than jobs in coal in 2017–it’s becoming easier for companies and governments to move quickly. “This is not some sort of difficult choice between saving the planet and growing their economies,” he says. “It’s sort of that now they’re going with the grain instead of against the grain.”

A few of the new commitments needed to ramp up progress toward the Paris goal are being announced this week at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. California, for example, announced that it will shift to 100% clean energy by 2045.

Bodnar is optimistic that it’s possible to move to the level of ambition needed. As a former negotiator in UN climate talks, he says that countries have tended to think that solutions needed to come from national governments. “I think what has happened out of necessity in the United States is that we flipped the script,” he says. “You have companies and localities surging ahead and telling their national governments to go farther, and giving them the political permission and political will and the economic confidence to go farther.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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